The unruly brain and bad habits of a writer, artist, and grilled cheese sandwich-enthusiast.
“You are an obsession/
You’re my obsession/
Who do you want me to be/
To make you sleep with me?”
– Animotion, “Obsession”
Bret Easton Ellis is an asshole. No matter the angle from which you approach his work, you must be aware of that indisputable fact if you’re to give a balanced critical analysis. Love or hate Ellis, you have to accept that he’s an asshole who writes about assholes. And the assholes he writes about are not – repeat, not – heroes. Not ever. Not in any conceivable fashion. Unfortunately, no one told the makers of American Psycho: The Musical.
As produced by Ray of Light Theatre, this production has three things going for it. The first being that it doesn’t skimp out on the blood. I bring this up because the last time I saw a RoLT production of a book-turned-film-turned-stage-musical, the blood was noticeably absent. The second is the choreography by Leslie Waggoner. As I stood waiting to get a drink at intermission, someone said, “if [Leslie] doesn’t get a nomination for this, it’ll be a crime.” That much is true. The third thing is that it appears the cast were chosen as much for their sculpted looks as their performance abilities. They are a truly gorgeous bunch of actors.
But they can only do so much with the play’s empty script. With a book by Bay Area theatre alumnus Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the script makes the same mistake as the Aguirre-Sacasa-scripted remake of Carrie by trying to make its lead a hero. He truly wants us to empathize with Patrick Bateman (Kipp Glass), a privileged rich White boy who compares himself to other rich White boys and gets off on killing women. The genius of Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner’s 2000 film adaptation was that it applied an unapologetically feminist perspective to Ellis’ unapologetically misogynist text, revealing Bateman to be a (mentally) impotent wretch. Aguirre-Sacasa wrote Bateman as just a misunderstood neurotic who just needs the right woman to see how great he really is.
That’s right: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wrote Patrick Bateman as a “Nice Guy” without a hint of irony or critique.
If that weren’t bad enough, the script takes a Moonbeam City and Kung Fury approach to the ‘80s, imagining the Reagan era as a series of pastels and lasers. That’s fine for mocking the yuppies that are central to Ellis’ tome, but the script’s “Aw, you can’t blame them – they just wanna be loved” approach keeps trying to apologize for their materialism. Ellis wrote a story so low it scrapes the barrel, yet it still went over Aguirre-Sacasa’s head.
“But what about the good stuff?” I hear you ask. Well, as mentioned above, the cast is as gorgeous as they are talented. Kipp Glass has the pipes, the abs, and the square jaw to pull off a convincing Patrick Bateman. His inevitably bloody rivalry with Paul Owen (the hilarious Kyle Ewalt, who enters striking a men’s catalogue pose) is made a bit tolerable by watching these guys play off one another. Also perfect is Danielle Altizio as Patrick’s fiancée Evelyn. Altizio’s poses and wardrobe make her akin to a living mannequin or a Patrick Nagel painting come to life. It’s only when Duncan Sheik’s songs give her solos that the play comes close to its intentions of satirizing the shallow.
Oh, I haven’t mentioned the songs much, have I? The opening number, “Morning Routine”, is catchy, but most of the songs are forgettable. Other than that first one, none of them advance the plot or tell us anything we didn’t already know. It also incorporates radio classics “Everybody wants to Rule the World,” “In the Air Tonight,” and yes, “Hip to Be Square” into the main action. The latter is done to recreate the look and feel of the film, but – like the remake of Carrie – Aguirre-Sacasa can only make Family Guy-style references to the earlier work without understanding its significance.
Speaking of the play’s look, the minimalist-but-not-really set is another winning design by Angrette McClosky. The set proper consists only of two walls that meet at a right angle at the upstage-center mark. The dividing lines in the walls hide moving parts and doors through which characters and Peet Cocke’s props appear and disappear. The rest of the set consists of Erik Scanlon and Patrick Nims’ projections, turning McClosky’s walls into everything from Patrick’s sterile home, his minimalist office, a dirty public restroom, and even the New York-New Jersey tunnel.
And I’d be remiss not to mention the excellent costume work by Katie Dowse. I see in my notes that I was particularly drawn to the way Patrick’s shiny gold watch reveals itself from his cuffs. Dowse’s collection here consists of everything from finely-tailored suits to numerous little black dresses and swimsuits to undies. Lots and lots of undies.
Add in Weili Shi’s lights and Jerry Girard’s sounds and you have a production that’s more a testament to Ray of Light’s prowess than the creators’ lack thereof. I’d like to say that was the point – glossy surface covering a hollow interior – but that would be giving the playwright far too much credit.
As I waited outside the Victoria, a homeless man with mental health issues passed by. A snooty audience member said, “Ugh, San Francisco…”. I thought of that when we got to the scene where Patrick kills the homeless man. The opportunity for commentary is there, but the script is written by someone who doesn’t have the skills to make that commentary. Instead, it pays fan service to those who love the film whilst ignoring – or simply missing – the subversive point the film-makers were making. (Hell, if you’re gonna fan service a Bret Easton Ellis work, you might as well have his mother mention his brother Sean from The Rules of Attraction.)
Another audience member said that the play felt like “an extended music video more than a show”. It’s a might purrty video, I’ll give ya that. But I immediately forgot the song once it was over.
American Psycho: The Musical is scheduled to run until the 8th of June at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco.
The show runs roughly 2 ½ hours with a single 15-min. intermission.
For tickets and information, please visit the production’s official site here.
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